BOOK SA’s own SA Partridge has crumpled up the sophomore’s curse that is a writer’s second novel and consigned it to the waste heaps with great dispatch. It seems like just yesterday that she debuted with The Goblet Club – it was, in fact, 26 October, 2007 – and now the author has an “explosive new novel” that will be sure to captivate her many fans (yes, with SA Partridge, one can speak of “fans”) – not to mention augment their numbers.
Fuse is about bullying at school, and its potentially devastating consequences. The examples from real life are all to plentiful: we remember the young Morne Harmse, for instance, who killed 16-year-old Jacques Pretorius with a sword last year, purportedly after being bullied to the point of despair.
Partridge’s characters are called Kendall Mullins and Craig Baumgarten – a pair whom the bullies have in their sights. The fuse is lit – but will the bomb go off, or will the spark be extinguished in the nick of time?
Sniff. My writers are growing up. Here’s the excerpt:
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Robbery is the best policy
Kendall snatched at the brown-paper bag and tore at its contents, discarding the wrappings as he began devouring the food within.
“Hungry?” Justin raised his eyebrows as he unwrapped his own burger more slowly.
They sat on a bench in the Company Gardens as tourists, local commuters and the city’s homeless walked past them in an unseeing exodus. The passers-by ignored the boys, who had become part of the city’s colourful array of street inhabitants. Justin could easily have walked right up to one of the commuters and stared them in the eye and they would have dodged past him without meeting his gaze.
“How much money do we have left?” Kendall asked, wiping the remnants of his meal from his mouth with his tatty sleeve, which was artfully hooked around his chipped black painted thumb nail.
“About R200. Enough to last a few days.”
“That’s not going to get us to Pretoria.”
“We’ll make a plan. We always do,” replied Justin confidently.
He playfully ruffled his younger brother’s hair, which immediately set the boy on edge, as it usually did. Kendall was unnecessarily fastidious about his appearance, especially his dead-straight hair.
Justin laughed and sipped his Coke, settling back on the bench. His brother tried to smooth down his hair, which had come undone from his ponytail.
Justin grinned and shook the can at his brother. “Want some?”
Kendall took the can, which was almost empty.
“You shouldn’t have.”
“Sharing is caring, brother dear.”
“Incidentally, have you thought about where we’re going to sleep tonight? It looks like it’s going to freeze again.”
Justin cupped his hands together under his chin. “I have one or two ideas.”
“Are these going to get us killed?” Kendall asked seriously.
“I hope not.”
“Ah, that’s good, then.”
“You’re going to have to trust me, though,” Justin said, equally serious.
“I always do.”
A couple was feeding the squirrels. It was obvious from the cameras dangling around their necks and their matching shorts and golf shirts that they were tourists.
Justin was eyeing the pair with the concentrated gaze of a tom cat stalking its prey.
He bounced his knee up and down on the bench as he struggled with his conscience, all the time keeping his eyes fixed on the couple.
“Look at them, Kenny.”
“Who?” Kendall asked, looking around.
“Those two foreigners by the oak tree. I’m going to make a grab for her bag. It’s lying on the ground.”
“Justin, that is not a good idea.”
“You have to run with me, Kendall.”
“Justin, I . . .”
“Kendall, I need you to run with me!”
“This is a really bad idea.”
“Let’s go,” Justin said, already leaping off the bench.
“Oh my God . . .”
Justin walked straight ahead towards the couple, with his brother right behind. Fortune was smiling down on the boys, for at that very moment a taxi rear-ended another vehicle and the resultant chorus of car horns temporarily distracted the tourists’ attention. This was Cape Town. A moment was all it took.
Justin casually picked up the bag and walked swiftly away.
By the time the couple realised that they had been robbed, the brothers had sprinted halfway across the city.
Tucked safely within the confines of a public restroom, the boys locked themselves into a cubicle to rest, and most importantly, examine their spoils.
“Oh my God, never do that to me again, please,” gasped Kendall, peeking over the top of the cubicle to ensure that they hadn’t been followed.
“Relax, Kendall. You worry too much.”
“What!” Kendall gasped, feeling as if his lungs were going to pop.
“Just calm down. Let’s see what we have here. A cellphone. Nice. Passport, maybe we can sell that. Wallet. Here we go.”
“How much is in there?” Kendall asked, instantly regretting his enthusiasm.
Kendall felt the disappointment in his stomach like a dead weight. As much as he hated stealing, a part of him had hoped that there would be more.
“I told you to trust me.” Justin hugged his brother, clearly not perturbed. “I’m sorry we had to do that, but it’s desperate times, you know.”
“Okay, before we do anything else, we have to stash this money. You keep half of it on you and I’ll keep the rest. Put it in your shoes.”
The boys spent the next few minutes removing their shoes and balancing on each other without allowing their feet to touch the ground. The public lavatory was the most decrepit, fetid place to be confined in. The floor, once white, was now a dirty brown mingled with the oily black sheen of years of drug use, vomit and urine.
They skipped dinner that evening out of choice.
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- Fuse is published by Human & Rousseau, an imprint of the NB group
- NB home
- NB @ BOOK SA
- Fuse will be launched on Tuesday, 16 June at the Cape Town Book Fair